Stuff wot I've driven – Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe

Published: 20 February 2012

At the risk of sundry friends immediately insisting on a hastily booked appointment with a button-backed Harley Street sofa, I must confess to never having had much truck with the cult hit that is the clutch of Mad Max movies.

Albeit undeniably decorative, Mel Gibson really isn’t my type, lacking each and every one of the feminine attributes that might otherwise keep me clamped, rapt, to the tip of the Kia-Ora straw. Moreover, the Australian outback boasts all the cinematographic appeal of a close-up plate cleared of a particularly sloppy spaghetti bolognaise, then left, unwashed, in the sun for 24 hours.

The dialogue rarely transcends Gloucester Old Spot levels of articulacy, and the plot lines – most notably when she of vibrating thigh and larynx, Tina Turner, is called upon to fulfil the role of baddie – generally prove about as gripping as the handshake of the unfortunate thug whose arm Max towed clean off early in the first episode.

Invariably far better viewing after an evening in the pub, then, the films did, however, at least have the benefit of one vaguely respectable motor car; a somewhat ratty, all-local-carwashes-out-of-order concoction with faux Hot Rod bonnet protrusions and an entirely agreeable sound track, that some soon-to-be-slaughtered casual bystander described in awe-struck tones as ‘the last of the V8 Interceptors’.

And I mention this because I believe I’ve just driven the very same, in the form of the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe. I have, in fact, been lucky enough to share various Mercedes bodyshells with AMG’s extraordinary, 6.2-litre V8 over the last year or so, but nowhere has it impressed me quite so much (not even in the deliciously retro SLS) as when shoehorned into the front of the new C-class Coupe.

After a day spent with diverse, ‘cooking’ versions of the car, I decided that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the new Mercedes except for a gentle lack of distinction about the exterior styling, a distinct lack of adult-sized accommodation in the back, and a baffling lack of correlation between model classification and engine size; both the C200 CDI and C 250 CDI sport the same 2143cc turbodiesel, and both the C180 and C250 make do with an identical 1796cc powerplant. Go, as our American cousins would have it, figure…

After a day spent with the C63 AMG, on the other hand, I decided that I simply had to have one; £57,745 being easily the least you’ll have to pay to acquire a brand spanking variant of a V8 which, quite rightly, won the Best Performance category of the 2010 Engine of the Year awards hands down.

This is a sublime powerplant; mercifully unfettered by the unwarranted stresses of turbocharging, it feels utterly unburstable. And what really impresses isn’t so much its healthy 451bhp, but a whopping 443 lb ft of torque, some 370lb ft of which is available from just 2000rpm. Via a seven-speed automatic gearbox with steering wheel paddle manual override, 0-62mph comes up in just 4.4 seconds. Far more significant, though, is the C63’s ability to thunder to 100mph in under 10 seconds. And quite what terminal velocity might be were it not limited to a spoilsport 155mph is anyone’s guess.

It’s amazing how quickly you become attuned to a car’s performance to the extent that, even in the likes of Porsche’s fabulous Cayman R, you increasingly find yourself hankering for more. But familiarity steadfastly fails to breed contempt on this occasion, and the C63 remains relentlessly fast throughout.

Barking into life with an unsolicited, and occasionally faintly embarrassing, prod of throttle, the soundtrack proves equally intoxicating; a mellifluous menagerie of growl, roar, rumble and snarl allied to –best of all – the intoxicating ‘ooof’ of the out-of-condition bully punched in the stomach when you lift off after a bout of full throttle. My only criticism is that perhaps slightly too much of this glorious din seems reserved for the innocent bystander rather than the owner… Then again, the gentle application of the ‘mute’ button must make the C63 far easier to live with in the long term.

As with other AMG offerings, the C63 incorporates a range of switchable transmission modes and a ‘Sport’ suspension setting. Happily, the two are not shackled together, as is so often the case, so maximum performance and optimum comfort may be simultaneously conjured. Not for long though, because the undercarriage’s softer setting, albeit remarkably comfortable in such a breakneck machine, elicits just a tad too much roll through the bends, calling on every inch of the sports seats’ formidable lateral support to prevent you sloshing to and fro like a pea in washing-up water.

Combine ‘Sport’ suspension with ‘Sport +’ transmission, then, and everything falls perfectly into place. In this setting, rather than leaving you thumping into a bend in an inappropriately high gear with no engine braking, this gearbox comes down through the gears, unsolicited, as you lift off.

Now, that should obviate the need for finger aerobics. But this is also a rare example of an automatic in which you won’t just play with the manual override a bit to show off to chums when you first buy the car and then never touch it again. The paddle shift works smoothly, effortlessly and quickly and, of course, is accompanied by automatic throttle blips on down changes to bring out the superhero in even the most ham fisted.

Handling is also a vice-free revelation, with the traditional hint of Mercedes stodginess that has always steered the enthusiast towards the BMW showroom utterly vanquished. The helm is a masterclass in accuracy and carefully considered weight, and even flung about, the C63 always feels entirely composed and solidly planted on the road.

But, somewhat uniquely to Mercedes’ AMG offerings, what really gets under the skin is the way the C63’s modest dimensions serve to leave you consistently aware that you’re seated at the heart of an hilariously compact, frill-free, front-engined, rear-drive sled with a dirty great V8 at the sharp end and a row of howitzer exhausts astern… Despite the rafts of electronic trickery at your disposal, the end result feels simple, direct, instantaneously responsive and inexhaustibly entertaining.

So, the last of the V8 Interceptors? Sadly, yes, because this is almost certainly the last time we’ll see this engine in a Mercedes. In the interests of fuel and CO2 efficiencies, a 5.5 litre twin-turbocharged replacement is already making its way under the bonnet of other AMG offerings. It will, doubtless, lack nothing for power and performance. But I can’t help feeling that it’ll never have the soul to vanquish what is undoubtedly the world’s finest road-going V8.

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By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche